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The Geek Movement » narrative


We recently presented work on the Reading Glove at the recent iDMAa (International Digital Media and Arts Association) conference on “The Digital Narrative”.  We presented a paper in the “Narrative Objects” session, and also demonstrated version 1.0 of the Reading Glove system at the Student Showcase, as part of the SIAT graduate student group. The Student Showcase highlighted the work of graduate and undergraduate students from a number of different schools, and was judged.  At the awards banquet, we were surprised and honored to learn that the SIAT graduate student group had been judged the winners and we were presented with the Digital Media Program Award of Excellence. 

The projects presented were:

Synesketch by Uros Krcadinac

The Reading Glove by Karen Tanenbaum and Josh Tanenbaum

Tarotception by Aaron Levisohn

The Talking Poles by Lorna Boschmann & Vicki Moulder

The newest version of the Reading Glove has recently been deployed in a set of user studies.  This version is augmented with a tabletop display that helps guide the user through the story.  An intelligent reasoning engine generates recommendations based on the reader’s path through the objects, helping them out by filling in holes or pushing them to the next stage of the story.  Via the user studies, we are investigating questions of adaptivity and the perception of artificial intelligence within an entertainment experience.

We have been running user studies with the system at SFU-Surrey and are about to launch a new round at the Great Northern Way campus. Many thanks to our great participants at both schools for helping us complete this research!

We have also produced a new video for the new version, which is viewable on YouTube:
Reading Glove 2.0

We just wrapped up a very successful conference experience at the 2010 Foundations of Digital Games in beautiful Monterey, California.  We presented a paper on the Reading Glove, “Authoring Tangible Interactive Narratives Using Cognitive Hyperlinks” at the INT3 (Interactive Narrative Technologies) workshop, and then were graciously allowed to show off our system at the Saturday demo session. All of the sessions we attended and conversations we had were interesting and thoughtful, and the conference food and drink was delicious and plentiful.  It doesn’t get much better than that!
We were particularly impressed by the work coming out of the Expressive Intelligence Studio at UC-Santa Cruz, just up the road.  Their grad students were out in force, and we had some great conversations with them.  We may even have convinced them to make their own Reading Glove, for their own nefarious purposes. Can’t wait to see what they do with it!

After several months of trial & error we have finally completed a working first prototype of the TUNE glove, recently re-named the “Reading Glove”.  The Reading Glove combines an Innovations ID-12 RFID reader, an XBee series 2 module (on a Lilypad XBee Radio), and Arduino Lilypad, and a simple homemade power supply to transmit RFID tag information wirelessly to a Laptop running Max MSP.  Read on for specific details on how it works, what it does, and how to make one of your own.

The complete circuit


Watch our Video of the Reading Glove in Action
The Reading Glove is an RFID based interface for interaction with tangible objects.  It allows interactors to manipulate and handle tagged objects in order to access digital information that has been “embedded” in them.  Each object in this interaction is marked with a unique RFID tag.  These unique identifiers allow the object to be associated with specific digital information, in the form of audio, projected visualizations, and text.  The glove is comprised of an Arduino Lillypad Microcontroller, an Xbee Series two wireless radio, and an Innovations ID-12 RFID reader, embedded in the palm of a soft fabric glove.  The Reading Glove transmits the Tag information to a computer running Max MSP, which uses the tag information to trigger digital events.


The DiGRA list is currently batting around another retread of a debate that I feel has actually grown quite tired.  Given that this conversation has already touched on games as art, games as education, and games as moral and ethical systems, I think we can safely say that we are involved in several political and (dare I say) religious debates about what games are, and what they do to us as players (and researchers/designers).  The letter that kicked this debate off, from within the game studies community, included this gem:

“Contrary to novels and movies,  players do not merely observe the unfolding story, their sensory-motor  system is highly active while pursuing whatever goals, changing the course of events within the game space provided. They do not distance themselves from the situation at hand. Players of those games are not challenged to enlarge and deepen their empathy.  This notion is quite unsettling, providing the high potential of games in this regard. GTA-type games may  from a technical viewpoint look artfully designed.  They are not art. Therefore, the communities of gamers should treat entertainment games as toys.”



Richard and his brother Roger were both Royal Society men, dedicated to the empirical arts to the point of obsession. Never ones to allow a small thing like personal discomfort stand between them and new knowledge, they had spent the last years of the century surveying regions where word of her majesty’s empire had never penetrated. It was in some heathen tin mining operation that Roger lost his life. A sluice gate gave way and washed a slurry of water, rocks, earth, and timber into the tunnel where he was taking measurements, caving in the ceiling and crushing him beyond all recognition. Stricken with grief, Richard had worked like a madman, excavating the cave-in that had claimed his brother. Using all the most modern techniques he smelted and purified what tin he was able to extract from the mass of rocks, earth, and blood. For a fortnight he labored, pouring his mourning into the perfect science that his brother had loved so well. When all was done, the scale he had wrought stood as a marker on Roger’s grave, perfect in its delicately balanced sensitivity. He stood in vigil for a full day and night, watching the needle, but it never moved – not even a micrometer. For the first time in his life, Richard was alone in the world.


That morning, when she went out to the woodshed, there was a row of shining wet footprints glistening on the hard packed floor. The shed was cold…cold enough to cause her breath to steam in the air before her, and the top layer of wood on the pile was frosted over. She’d only been keeping house for the Beaumont family for a week, and although nothing untoward had happened in that time she felt vaguely discomfited with each passing day. The bare footprints and the frigid woodshed put her in mind of the stories her grandmam had told her; stories of loa and ghosts and all sorts of other nonsense which had seemed like fanciful imagination. Suddenly they did not seem so farfetched. Rubbing her arms against the unnatural cold she set about collecting enough dry wood to fuel the kitchen stove. Behind her, the door to the shed creaked open. She turned hurriedly to find the elder Beaumont looming in the doorway. “Did you know some people believe a camera will capture their soul?” he asked, raising a leather clad box and pointing it at her. The last noise she heard was the faint click and snap of the shutter. “Fancy that.” he smiled, reflected in her empty eyes.


They were drinking port in a dockside alehouse when the revolution ended. The door to the street flew open, a cold gust of wind blowing out the flames of the rush lamps—plunging the room into darkness—such that the light from the street silhouetted the soldiers in the doorframe. They knew, before the warrant was read, that someone had betrayed them. The presence of the King’s own guard here, in their sanctuary, was evidence enough of that. The older of the two men, grizzled and careworn with hard years of planning, turned to his younger companion and raised his goblet in silent salute. If this was to be his end, he would face it with dignity to the last breath. His companion locked eyes with him and returned the toast, raising the cup to his lips. Both drank deeply, and a look of triumph darted across the young man’s face. Too late, the leader of the revolution saw the pepperbox revolver in his young companion’s hand, but even as he moved to rise his vision began to swim. “You?” he said dumbly. “You poisoned the port!” Revelation dawned as the world went dark. “Of course.” the other replied, smiling. “We couldn’t take any chances.”


That night, he couldn’t sleep. Every time he closed his eyes the same pattern of repeating pulses pounded against his eyelids in a rat-tat-tat rhythm that caused his teeth to chatter against each-other uncontrollably. Throwing aside his tattered blanket, he abandoned the stained mattress and poured himself a mug of leftover coffee dregs from the standard camp issue pot that all operators received. Although sleep was not an option, he wasn’t properly awake either. He sat down at the telegraph console in his tiny dingy room in a fugue state somewhere between sleep and wakefulness. The bitter coffee dregs tickled his brainstem and crackled along his frayed nerves. He should never have tried to crack that last message; he knew that. There was a reason the operators didn’t get to know the codes to the information that they were relaying. In a way it was his own fault: a less talented operator would never have intuited the pattern underlying the patterns of dots and dashes flowing through his fingers. But once he had a grasp of the code, breaking it came to him effortlessly. It had been a simple transmission: We’ve been waiting for you / Be ready to go.


He wore the mask, not because it frightened his victims (although it probably did), but because it prevented him from recognizing himself when he caught a glimpse of his own reflection. Illuminated by the warm glow of the gaslamps, the London streets afforded him ample opportunities for reflection, even cloaked, and masked as he was. He could not help but follow his own visage when he passed by a shop window, or a still puddle of murky rainwater (of which there were many in London). He knew it for a form of vanity, but it was a perverse fascination – he watched his own countenance, wreathed in shadows, and imagined how the folk on the street must fear him. One time he took a young girl, right from her mother’s side. Another time it was a dyers apprentice, his arms stained to the elbows, fists clenched as he struggled futilely. No matter the recipient of his attentions, in the end, all were offered to the hungry Thames. He was the eyes, ears, and hands of those fetid currents and it was only in those dark waters that he allowed his true face to be reflected.

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